Apparel company to close Wendell facility, lay off 135 workers

aspecht@newsobserver.com dranii@newsobserver.comJuly 25, 2013 

Jimmy Stanley smokes a cigarette outside the Soffe facility in Wendell on July 24, 2013. Stanley is one of 135 employees the company plans to lay off.

PAUL A. SPECHT - ASPECHT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM Buy Photo

— Delta Apparel plans to close its Wendell facility, known locally as The Cotton Exchange, and lay off the 135 employees who work there.

The Fayetteville-based company announced the layoffs in a letter to the N.C. Department of Commerce on July 10 and alerted Wendell Town Hall last week, according to Town Clerk Jonnie Driver.

Delta Apparel, which makes athletic clothing and casual wear, says it’s consolidating screen print productions at a facility in Fayetteville – headquarters of its M.J. Soffe division.

“These decisions are never easy, especially when they affect associates who have been dedicated and loyal to our company,” Delta Apparel CEO Bob Humphreys said in a statement. “However, as our business becomes increasingly competitive, we can no longer justify the additional cost associated with operating two U.S. decoration facilities.”

Those affected by the layoffs will be considered for openings and transfers within the company. Delta employs about 500 people in Fayetteville in various functions, such as sewing, screen printing, retail packaging, distribution and product development.

But relocating isn’t an option for some like 48-year-old Jimmy Stanley of Zebulon, who works as a receiver for the company.

“My wife works in Raleigh and has a good job. So I couldn’t ask her to (relocate),” Stanley said. “I hate it. I’ve been here since 2006, and I know a lot of people.”

David Ferrell, 30, can’t move to Fayetteville either. But he tried to put a positive spin on it.

“I guess I’ll start back at square one ... looking for jobs in Raleigh and Knightdale,” said Ferrell, of Zebulon. “Hopefully, it’ll work out for the better.”

The facility at 115 East Third St. will close permanently on Sept. 12, according to the letter, leaving the 231,000-square foot facility vacant. While Delta Apparel expects to save $1.5 million a year from the reorganization, the move will come as a blow to Wendell.

A handful of downtown businesses have closed in recent years. Earlier this year, a study showed that Wendell residents spent $18 million at retailers outside of town. And with only $28,000 in new revenue last year, Town Hall is financially limited in its ability to help existing businesses through grants or upgrades to infrastructure.

“The closing and jobs lost will be felt definitely by the town of Wendell,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ira Fuller. “Any loss of that many jobs is of grave concern to me as a board member and as a citizen of Wendell.”

What’s ahead?

The building is owned by WENCO corporation. Ed Morrell is the president of that corporation. He and two partners owned the business that is now closing until 2010, when they sold it to Delta.

Morrell said Delta will continue to lease the building until January 2014.

“WENCO is looking for a tenant or for an opportunity to sell the building. All options are on the table right now,” Morrell said.

A member of the town’s ad hoc economic development committee, Morrell said the plant closing could offer an opportunity for a new business to bring its operation to the town.

He said the Measurements group once used the building, which was the longtime home of Kemp Furniture, as a training facility until its permanent facility on Wendell Boulevard was completed.

“It could be a plus,” Morrell said.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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